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Free Study Guide for The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

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SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / IMAGERY / METAPHORS / SYMBOLS


SYMBOLISM - SYMBOLS


Roses

Wooden roses mean unrealized love. A real rose means real love. After the rape, Frank carved a rose for Helen. She threw it into the trash. This occurred at the end of the seventh chapter. At the end of the story, Frank saw, in his mind, Saint Francis taking the rose out of the trash. It became real and Saint Francis gave it to Helen. She kept it this time.

Milk and Liquor

Morris sold milk. Julius Karp sold liquor. Karp made much more money selling liquor than Morris made selling milk. But, society benefited more from Morris's milk than it did from Karp's liquor. And, society benefited more from Morris's existence than from Karpís in other ways as well.


MOTIFS


Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi is repeatedly mentioned in connection with Frank Alpine. Saint Francis first appeared in Frank's life when, as a boy in an orphanage, he heard stories about him. The stories were told by a priest who visited the orphanage. These stories gave Frank an ideal to strive toward. Without hearing the stories, Frank would have undoubtedly grown into a different adult. Frank talks about Saint Francis with Sam Pearl, in the second chapter, while he is waiting for Morris's store to reopen. In the fourth chapter, Frank talks to Helen about Saint Francis's snow wife. At the end of the book, Frank thinks about Saint Francis taking a wooden rose that Frank had carved for Helen, but that she had discarded, out of the trash. The carved rose then becomes real and when Saint Francis gives it to Helen, she keeps it.


Prison

The long hours that Morris keeps in the grocery store, along with the fact that he never leaves the store unless he is going away in an ambulance, make the store seem like a prison. Frank is worried that, if he stays in the grocery, he too will become a prisoner. Helen once indicates to Frank that he owes her father nothing for making him a prisoner in the store.


IMAGERY


Snow

Snow is used to create an image of purity. It is also used to create an image of absence of emotion.

Fire

Fire creates an image in the story, of cleansing and, also, one of passion.

Smells

A description of something that smells bad causes the reader to understand that there is unpleasantness, as after Frank abused Helen. He knew that he had offended Helen, so he believed that he smelled bad.

When Frank smells the cabbage and kerosene at the home of Carl, the Swedish painter, the reader is given a sense of the unpleasantness of the place.


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